LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A standup comedian who was sued for making mother-in-law jokes has had the last laugh after a federal judge threw the case out of court.
Sunda Croonquist, whose shtick for years has been to describe her life as a half-black, half-Swedish woman who marries into a Jewish family, was sued two years ago after her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law said her jokes were holding them up to public ridicule.
In a 21-page ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper of New Jersey concluded that the examples they cited — including one in which Croonquist says her sister-in-law’s voice sounds like a cat in heat — fell under the category of protected speech.
Many of the jokes, Cooper said, were clearly statements of opinion and not fact and therefore protected by the First Amendment. The cat-in-heat joke, the judge said, quoting from a previous court decision, was “colorful, figurative rhetoric that reasonable minds would not take to be factual.”
The suit was filed in New Jersey because two of the plaintiffs, Croonquist’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Neil and Shelley Edelman, live there. Croonquist lives in Beverly Hills and her mother-in-law, Ruth Zafrin, lives in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.
Adding another family twist to the case was the fact Croonquist’s husband, Mark Zafrin, is a partner in the law firm that successfully represented her.
“He’s excited that I won, but he’s not happy about the legal fees that his firm had to incur,” she said.